All in for wind: Microsoft's 175 MW PPA with EDF another indication that America wants more renewables

18 July 2014 by Carl Levesque Carl Levesque

Last week we reported that an impressive list of top U.S. companies have called for more renewable energy for America. They did so by issuing a set of “Renewable Energy Principles.”

Just a couple of weeks before, we highlighted how 302 businesses and other major players in the U.S. economy are calling for urgent action by Congress on the EXPIRE Act, which includes an extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy.

Letters and documents concerning principles are important. They make things happen, like getting Congress to move. Meanwhile, many of these companies are backing up these pieces of paper with action, and the latest example of that came just this week.

On July 15 Microsoft said it will purchase all 175 MW of Pilot Hill Wind Project, which is located about 60 miles south of Chicago. Meantime, EDF Renewable Energy announced the company has secured a 96 percent stake in the project, which was formerly known as K4, from Orion Energy Group, LLC, and Vision Energy, LLC.

Microsoft has entered into a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) for the wind farm’s energy. Other major companies such as Google have also entered wind PPAs, creating a new market (or customer base) beyond utilities for the clean and affordable energy source.

But this week is about Microsoft. The PPA is the second such deal in as many years and indicative of Microsoft’s growing commitment to renewable energy and sustainability. When it comes online next year, Pilot Hill will be Microsoft’s largest wind project and one of the biggest corporate wind purchases from a single facility, generating more than enough energy to power the software giant’s Chicago datacenter. Power-hungry data centers, incidentally, are also largely driving Google’s interest in affordable wind energy.

Microsoft, which made a commitment two years ago to being carbon neutral, purchased 110 megawatts of energy from the Keechi Wind Farm in Texas in 2013. The company has placed an internal price on carbon.

To be sure, the purchase makes good business sense—for everyone involved. The PPA provided the long-term revenue certainty needed to get Pilot Hill off the ground, said Ryan Pfaff, EDF Renewable Energy’s executive vice president of development. From Microsoft’s perspective, the clean energy source was affordable.

“As the cost of renewable energy continues to decline, it is encouraging to see leading corporations investing in the sector based not only on their desire to positively impact the environment, but also because it simply makes good business sense,” he said.